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Are Item-Level Tags Up to the Job?

The RFID Alliance Lab tested four commercially available EPC Gen 1 UHF tags and found that each had limitations.
By Daniel Deavours
Feb 01, 2006—Many companies are anticipating the time when they will tag unique items, but they are not sure about the performance of UHF tags that conform to Electronic Product Code specifications. One such company in the Kansas City area asked the RFID Alliance Lab, a not-for-profit facility, to test the tagging of cell phones. Our tests revealed some startlingly large differences in performance among the tags, with no clear winners or losers. The tag's size, read distance and orientation with the interrogator all affect performance. (For a discussion on whether HF is a better technology for item-level tagging, see sidebar at end of article.)

We tested four commercially available RFID tags that are based on EPCglobal's Gen 1 air-interface protocol specifications and smaller than 2 inches by 2 inches, so they'd fit on a PDA or cell phone: Alien ALL-9334, Avery Dennison AD-010, Rafsec 3000518 and Symbol I1030. At the time we did the testing, we were not able to obtain a sufficient quantity of any Gen 2 tags. While we expect Gen 2 tags to perform better than their Gen 1 counterparts, we believe that our general conclusions will hold.

• The Alien ALL-9334 was the largest tag we tested. The entire label, including the antenna and a small margin, measured 50 mm (2.0 inches) by 48 mm (1.9 inches). The Alien tag has a 96-bit Class 1 chip encased in a strap, which has leads that connect the chip to metal pads; the pads attach to the antenna. We tested 20 of these tags.

• The Avery AD-010 is a 96-bit Class 1 tag. The tags we tested came from a spool of 200 tags in the form of unconverted inlays. The inlay measured 33 mm (1.3 inches) by 33 mm. (We prefer to test converted labels, because the conversion process can impact yield and performance, but time pressures forced a compromise.) Roughly half the tags were marked with a black dot, indicating the tag had failed quality standards; we did not test these tags.

• The Rafsec 3000518 is a 96-bit Class 1 tag. The entire label measures 15 mm (0.6 inch) by 35 mm (1.4 inches). We obtained two rolls of 100 labels each, of which 50 were used in these tests.

• The Symbol I1030 is a 64-bit Class 0 read-only tag. The entire self-adhesive inlay measures 37 mm (1.5 inches) by 30 mm (1.2 inches). We tested 50 tags.
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